Deal or No Deal | Centre for Science and Environment

Deal or No Deal

October 16th, 2001

Governments are scheduled to meet in Marrakech later this month to further the Kyoto process, designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in industrialised countries. Will their efforts eventually control climate change?Experts from around the world assess the worth of the latest 'Bonn agreement', reached at the resumed session of the sixth conference of parties to the climate change convention (also called CoP-6 bis), in July 2001


The net result of the Bonn agreement is that the Kyoto Protocol is now even more of a paper victory than earlier

CoP-6bis concluded with much buoyancy and cheer amongst the delegates. While the negotiators, and particularly negotiation president Jan Pronk of the Netherlands, were joyously patting themselves on the back for having completed the 'unfinished business' of the earlier meeting at The Hague (CoP-6 part I), the fact of the matter is that the news from the resumed session at Bonn was, at best, mixed.

Indeed, it is not a small achievement that the negotiations, which had seemed all but dead eight months earlier, were revived and concluded. This was all the more impressive given the fact that the position of the US, which had steadfastly refused to join the emerging consensus at The Hague, had only become more adamant since then; to the point that it had even withdrawn from the Kyoto agreement by the time the delegates arrived in Bonn. The good news was that the US withdrawal had galvanised the other industrialised countries, particularly the European Union (EU), into going ahead without the US rather than paralysing the negotiations as some had feared.

Looking at the long term consequences, this could have positive implications both for the climate convention and other multilateral environmental agreements (MEA). Until now, conventional wisdom has held that no meaningful advance in global environmental policy can be possible without full and active concurrence of the US. This has given virtual veto power to the US in all environmental negotiations, even where it is not the most relevant player (for example the Desertification Convention). This myth, which has been consciously cultivated by US negotiators and readily accepted by others, was challenged at Bonn. This may be Bonn's biggest achievement because it opens up the possibility, or at least the potential, of future MEA negotiations being less encumbered by the efforts to appease the US at all costs.

Unfortunately, the bad news from CoP-6bis is far more disturbing and has immediate as well as long-term implications. Some have jokingly termed the results from Bonn as 'Kyoto Lite', signifying their potential to seriously dilute the Kyoto Protocol. The fact of the matter is that the term 'Kyoto Lite' is an over-statement in that the original Kyoto Protocol was already so watered down that diluting it any further leaves us with nothing more than water. Indeed, this does seem to be a case where the final agreement is far less than what meets the eye!

With the US no longer at the table, one would have hoped that the many concessions that had already been made to appease it, at The Hague and earlier, could now be withdrawn. However, instead of raising the bar and seeking a more proactive agreement than had earlier been possible due to US intransigence, the negotiators lowered their sights and eventually agreed to a set of decisions that the US might well have accepted had they been offered at The Hague. This is particularly true on the issue of sinks, where Japan and Canada acted as virtual proxies for the US and the EU eventually capitulated. In essence, the US shadow on the CoP-6bis decisions is so large and ominous that they remained the single most important player in the negotiations; even though they were technically not playing!

The net result of this is that the Kyoto Protocol is now even more (or, rather, less) of a paper victory than earlier. But more than that, it represents a wasted opportunity. Given that the largest polluter is no longer part of the signatories and the provision of more loopholes for use of sinks and hot air trades, the protocol will now do even less than it was originally going to do in terms of reducing actual emissions or concentrations. Moreover, the long-term message it sends to developing countries of the South - about what industrialised countries have actually committed to doing and how developing countries might be eventually incorporated into a global climate regime - is more confusing than ever.

So, what did CoP-6bis really achieve?
Was it able to revive the Kyoto process? Certainly.
Was it able to fix the Kyoto Protocol? Certainly not.

Adil Najam, Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, Centre for Energy and Environmental Studies, Boston University, USA.


If anyone loses in this negotiation, it is the least developed countries. The planet will not see a significant difference

Ambassador Bagher Asadi, Iranian head of G77 group of developing countries, termed the agreement reached at CoP-6bis as a symbol of the "victory of multilateralism against unilateralism", referring to the success of the world in saving the protocol despite US withdrawal and unilateral attempt to kill it. But indeed, nobody can say that the deal was a perfect one. I am sure many people cursed the outcome - big industries and environmentalists alike.

The biggest loophole is that consequences for non-compliance are not yet legally binding. The issue of using carbon dioxide absorbed by sinks like forests to meet commitments, which was the most contentious issue at the previous round of negotiations in The Hague, was one of the smoothest ones at CoP-6bis. With this agreement, gone are the hopes of the EU to keep sinks out. Apart from taking credits for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by afforestation and reforestation, industrialised countries can also earn limited credits for activities like forest management. Under the clean development mechanism (CDM), sinks projects in developing countries can only be used to meet up to one per cent of an industrialised country's reduction commitment.

What does this agreement mean? Who won the negotiations and who lost? What's next? One thing is certain. The resource transfers to developing countries will not be at the scale that everyone thought. CDM will not bring much money to developing countries. The sum of funding to the least developed countries is marginal compared to their adaptation and development needs. If anyone loses in this negotiation, it is the least developed countries. The planet will not see a significant difference.

However, the Kyoto Protocol is, as people put it, "an essential first step in the right direction". The significance of the political deal is just that, a political deal, finally. CoP-6bis is the victory of multilateralism over unilateralism, nothing more than that.

Agus P Sari , director, Pelangi, Indonesia


While a major diplomatic achievement, what emerged in Bonn was a puny response to an intensifying problem

By far the most striking feature of the agreement hammered out by delegates in Bonn this July was the absence of the US. With its opposition to the protocol, its withdrawal from the UN conference on racism, and its refusal to participate in international conventions on landmines, biological warfare and handgun control, the US has become a rogue nation and, in the eyes of many, has forfeited its claims to moral leadership.

While the Kyoto Protocol is dismally inadequate when compared to the magnitude and urgency of the climate crisis, its adoption by the community of non-US nations far transcends its shortcomings. The intent of delegates was to fashion a protocol which, despite its initial low goals, could be ratcheted up to meet the demands of our increasingly inflamed atmosphere. Hopefully, the residual enthusiasm of triumphant delegates, who managed to approve a protocol after six years of negotiations, will lead to a much stronger document in the coming years. In January 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change increased its forecast of warming by the end of this century from 3 to 5.5°C. A recent study published in the journal Nature found that unless the world gets half its energy from non-carbon sources by 2018, the planet will experience an inevitable quadrupling of heat-trapping, atmospheric carbon concentrations near the end of the century. Against this backdrop, the protocol falls far short of its goal of 'climate stabilisation'.

Soon after assuming office, US president George W Bush reneged on a campaign pledge to curb emissions from coal-powered generating plants. He then unveiled his administration's energy plan - which is basically a shortcut to climate hell. And he capped his policy initiatives by withdrawing the US from the rest of the world community working desperately to begin to address the climate crisis. Stabilising the climate requires global emissions reductions of 60 to 80 per cent. This will require a far more aggressive approach than is embodied in the current draft protocol. It is to be hoped that, at the next round of climate talks in Morocco, delegates will begin to plot the outlines of a far more aggressive protocol. That might involve a recommendation that industrialised nations withdraw subsidies from fossil fuels and divert them, instead, to solar, wind, biomass and hydrogen technologies. It might also lead to a consideration of replacing the flawed and inequitable mechanism of 'emissions trading' with a progressively more stringent Fossil Fuel Efficiency Standard - under which every country would increase its fossil fuel efficiency by, say, five per cent per year. And it must include creation of a large fund - of the order of US $300 billion per year - to fund development of clean energy in developing nations to assist them in meeting the progressive increases in fossil fuel efficiency. That is the kind of Kyoto Protocol that would truly be appropriate to the magnitude and urgency of the crisis.

What emerged in Bonn, by contrast, while a major diplomatic accomplishment, was a puny response to a massive and intensifying problem. Ironically, following his steady withdrawal from multilateral participation, the recent attacks on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon forced President Bush to reach out to the rest of the world to support counter-terrorist initiatives. One can only hope that re-engagement with the community of nations will also lead the US to rejoin the rest of the world in addressing the longer-term but equally dire threat of accelerating global climate change.

Ross Gelbspan, author, The Heat Is On, USA



The Bonn agreement should be honestly and knowingly embraced as a victory even as we fight to close its loopholes

Even before the ink on the "Bonn Compromise" was dry, the spin began. And from the very beginning there was the problem - the deal as we have it is even worse than the one the US tried to get at The Hague. More fundamentally, the key point is that the Kyoto Protocol, with its original rules and emission-reduction targets, was barely a start on the problem, and "Kyoto Lite" (as it was dubbed by a Greenpeace Germany press release) is even weaker. Who, then, were these environmentalists, standing now to support a package thick with the "loopholes" that they'd been fighting against for years? Sellouts? Fools? Victims of a negotiational Stockholm syndrome that had left them too "locked into" the deal to reject it, even after its evisceration?

It's easy for "the radicals" to say so, and they do. And they are quite wrong. The Bonn rules, even with all their loopholes and flexibility mechanisms and concessions-to the Japanese, the Australians, the Russians, and, indeed, the Americans-should be seen not as the marks of failure, but rather of the strategic retreat that made the deal possible. The problems are large, and must be acknowledged, but the fact is that the Bush Administration failed to destroy the climate negotiations, which were, rather, saved by an important new North/South coalition, and that, in its coming confrontation with "the equity issue", this coalition will soon move the negotiations in some extremely interesting directions.

As for the loopholes, the struggle to close them is unavoidable, and will go on for decades. As the impacts worsen, the coalition firms, and the technology advances, we'll have ever better chances to close them. Moreover, some of the "flexibility mechanisms" are nothing so much as concessions to historical reality. Emissions trading is the defining example, and at the risk of being derided as hopelessly reformist, we must point out that, without trading, Kyoto would have died long ago.

The US and its allies will probably still move to prevent ratification. But if the Protocol is nevertheless won, then its signatories will have crossed the threshold to embrace a regime that sets globally binding obligations to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Be clear about this - the Kyoto Protocol is not only a climate treaty, it is an economic treaty as well, and, indeed, it is the very first economic treaty that can plausibly be counted as a major step towards "sustainable development." It is extremely weak, but in this very capitalist world, one in which talk alone rarely has lasting consequences, carbon, or rather the right to emit carbon, will finally have a price. This price, moreover, will be imposed by an open multilateral process based in the United Nations. With unilateralism rising and the "globalisation debate" desperately in need of ways forward, the significance of such a development should not be underestimated.

The Bonn Compromise is clearly significant. If it holds, it will likely be counted as epochal. Not only should we support it, we should honestly and knowingly embrace as the victory it was, even as we fight to close its loopholes and otherwise strengthen it. Indeed, the task just now is to do just this. We need to look to the future, and to the doors that Bonn has opened, even as we keep a cold eye on the right, where Bush's supporters are claiming that the agreement is a trivial one, and hoping that by so doing they can reduce its chances for ratification, or at least cut the political damage that their man will suffer for rejecting it. Indeed, even if Kyoto fails it will be a success, for only by passing down this path can we open the political space for alternatives, or decisively establish the North/South coalition that can win an equity-based deal. The environmental groups who supported Kyoto in spite of its obvious inadequacy have, with the inadvertent help of a ham-handed Bush Administration, won a huge tactical victory. If their strategy bears fruit, even Kyoto Lite will radically accelerate the decarbonisation of the global economy. If it does not, then we'll know it soon enough, and everyone will know that it's time for Plan B.

Tom Athanasiou, cofounder, EcoEquity, USA



Negotiations failed to address the need and interests of poor developing countries adequately

Although the Bonn Agreement is considered to be a significant milestone towards the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol and subsequently the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the substance of the agreement is far below the expectations of developing countries. Some compromise was reached with regard to key contentious issues in order to keep key industrialised countries on board and stop them from toeing the American line.

However, these compromises, particularly those on the flexibility mechanisms and domestic sinks, combined with the non-participation of the US, will dramatically reduce the size of CDM potential market and subsequently the cost of certified emission reductions. Ironically CDM, which hitherto seemed so attractive to developing countries, now sounds quite hollow. This is not at all surprising since the needs and interests of poor developing countries were not adequately addressed.

The low level of funding to developing countries (US $ 420 millions) will greatly affect the effective prospect of their participation. In fact, no specific funding level has been identified and there is no new legal requirement on industrialised countries to provide funding that should be "new and additional". Capacity building, a critical element that can really facilitate the efforts of these countries to fully engage in the international efforts to combat global warming, was only accorded scant attention. In spite of a global consensus, the operationalisation of capacity building seems to be relegated to the back burner within the overall debate and the negotiations.

Let us hope that in the next phase of the negotiations the "smaller voices" within the clamour will be heard and their interests and needs will be given the attention they deserve.

Youba Sokona, executive secretary in charge of international relations, ENDA-TM, Senegal

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Uthra Radhakrishnan
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